Rolex Side-by-Side: Sea Dweller vs. Submariner

Rolex Side-by-Side: Sea Dweller vs. Submariner

Diving developed as a sport and science in the early twentieth century. Before advancements in technology like the creation of diving computers and other equipment, divers depended on their watches. In those early days, having a reliable dive watch could be the difference between life and death.

During the mid- twentieth century, the sport of diving was growing in popularity. In turn, the production of dive watches peaked. This post-war period in the 1950s marked a significant time in the history of the dive watch. It was then that the dive watch began to garner attention not only as a diving tool but also as a fashion accessory.

The Rolex brand has built a reputation for its tireless research in the field of professional diving. In fact, they played a big role in the surge of dive watches during those pivotal moments in the 1950s. Here, we look at a side-by-side comparison between the Sea-Dweller vs. Submariner, two of Rolex’s signature dive watch models.

List of Key Differences between the Rolex Sea-Dweller vs. Submariner

  • Size: The Sea-Dweller is larger, measuring 43mm, and the Submariner is smaller, measuring 40mm.
  • Depth Rating: The Sea-Dweller has a significantly higher depth rating of 1220 meters, and the Submariner has a lower depth rating of 300 meters.
  • Bracelet: The Sea-Dweller features the Fliplock extension link that can extend the bracelet an additional 26mm, and the Submariner has the more basic Glidelock extension system.
  • Movement: The Sea-Dweller Ref. 126600 features the Caliber 3235 movement, and the Submariner Ref. 116610 features the Caliber 3135 movement.
  • Power Reserve: The Sea-Dweller has a higher power reserve at 70-hours, and the Submariner has a lower power reserve of only about 48-hours.

Price: Both new and pre-owned, the Sea-Dweller has a higher price point, and the Submariner has a lower price point.

Key Features of the Rolex Submariner

a pair of white gold Submariners sitting on top of stone and to the right of a brass compass

A pair of Submariners

The Submariner first debuted in 1953, during that key period of dive watch development in the mid-twentieth century. Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf wanted to create a dive watch that was both functional and fashionable for everyday wear. The result was the Submariner, a less-sporty design that could transition from dive to dinner party. Still, it retained the dive watch’s key features, like 100 meters of water resistance, luminous markers, and unidirectional rotating bezel. The first model introduced at the famous Basel Fair was the Reference 6204. Soon after, Rolex followed it up with the Reference 6205.

Since its initial release, the Submariner has only seen minor updates – part of the watch’s timeless charm. The Reference 5512 is an important model. That’s because it introduced two key features of the Rolex Submariner: an oversized crown and crown guards to protect it. This particular version also gained widespread popularity on the wrist of legendary actor and racer Steve McQueen.

The Submariner’s original purpose was to bridge the gap between tool watch and dress watch. However, it wasn’t until the late 1960s that the model solidified its place as more than a diver’s tool. The Reference 1680 introduced another key feature of the Rolex Submariner: the option for a date function with Cyclops lens. This additional function gave the Submariner more mass appeal.

Key Features of the Rolex Sea-Dweller

an image of a pair of sea dwellers in white gold and gold sitting on top of wood

A pair of Sea Dwellers

Rolex added the Sea-Dweller to their line of dive watches about ten years after the debut of the Submariner. An industrial deep-sea diving company called Comex approached Rolex about creating a dive watch that could function at deeper depths for longer periods of time. In response, the brand took one of its existing Submariner models and began to tweak it.

The addition of one key feature set their new creation apart from the Submariner: a patented one-way helium escape valve. It sits opposite of the crown and helps to relieve the pressure experienced at greater depths. In 1967, a new model was officially born: the Sea-Dweller Reference 1665. In addition to HEV, the Sea-Dweller also boasted other key features. These included a Triplock crown, thicker crystal, and larger reinforced case. As a result, the watch offered an increased depth rating of up to 600 meters.

In the years to follow, Rolex would continue to update the Sea-Dweller with advanced technology to make it an even more optimal dive watch. Today, the model boasts double the original depth rating at 1220 meters. In addition, it showcases other key features like an upgraded movement with longer power reserve and modern Rolex bracelet design.

Key Differences between the Submariner and the Sea-Dweller

Now, let’s look at a side-by-side comparison of the Submariner and Sea-Dweller. There are a number of key differences between the Rolex Sea-Dweller vs. Submariner. Fitting with the Submariner’s appeal to watch enthusiasts and divers alike, it features a more modest size at 40mm compared to the Sea-Dweller’s 43mm.

On the other hand, the Sea-Dweller is more of a functional tool. It features a much higher water resistance of 1220 meters compared to the Submariner’s 300 meters. The Sea-Dweller also comes equipped with a more advanced bracelet system. In addition to the Glidelock extension system featured on the Submariner, the Sea-Dweller features the Fliplock extension link that can extend the bracelet an additional 26mm. The Submariner and Sea-Dweller also house different movements with different power reserves. The Sea-Dweller Ref. 126600 features the Caliber 3235 movement with a 70-hour power reserve. Alternatively, the Submariner Ref. 116610 features the Caliber 3135 movement with a 48-hour power reserve. These functional differences between the Submariner and Sea-Dweller are ultimately reflected in the price. Whether you’re buying new or pre-owned, the Sea-Dweller comes in at a higher price point than the Submariner.

How to choose between the Rolex Sea-Dweller vs. Submariner

If you’re a more casual diver or looking for a more versatile model, the Submariner is a good choice. It’s an admirable dive watch that’s equally suitable for any occasion on dry land. Conversely, the Sea-Dweller is a robust tool watch. If you’re an avid diver looking to reach greater depths for prolonged periods, the Sea-Dweller is a great bet. If you look at a side-by-side comparison of the Sea-Dweller and Submariner, it all comes down to functional differences.

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Caitlyn is the founder of Grey Ghost, a New York City-based boutique content marketing agency with a passion for artists, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and startups. She believes in quality over quantity, creative thinking, and, above all, using language as powerful tool to build lasting connections.

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